updated 9/20/2007 1:22:08 PM ET 2007-09-20T17:22:08

Guest: Andrew Goldberg, Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, Howard Fineman, Paul

F. Tompkins

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC GUEST HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

The drama continues.  O.J. Simpson, a free man facing 11 charges, 10 of those felonies. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE M. BONAVENTURE, JUDGE, O.J. SIMPSON CASE:  Mr. Simpson, do you understand the charges against you?

O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER & ACTOR:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The 60-year-old released from jail on $125,000 bail.  The police report, the legal issues, the media circus—choppers chasing cars and Marcia Clark?  It’s deja vu all over again. 

Meanwhile, the president’s approval rating dips to 29 percent, Congress, 11 percent. 

This is Senate majority leader Harry Reid.  Says he will not seek a compromise on Iraq to get those on-the-fence Republicans onboard. 

When life hands you lemons—go have a lemon-tini.  Hours after a judge orders Britney Spears to take random drug tests, she is spotted out partying.  Maybe she should hire this guy to be her own personal cheerleader next time she heads to court. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YALE GALANTER, O.J. SIMPSON’S ATTORNEY:  Do we expect Mr. Simpson to be processed and released?  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

GALANTER:  Fairly quickly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  It’s the return of the court super fan.  Apparently, he’s recovered from his health incarceration. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no, no, no. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  He’s now spreading the love. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALANTER:  We’ve been securing Mr. Simpson’s release from custody. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nice work, dude.  Up high. 

GALANTER:  Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  All that and more now on “Countdown.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)             

STEWART (on camera):  Good evening, everybody.  Keith Olbermann is still on the mend after surgery.  I’m Alison Stewart.

Our fifth story, a severe case of O.J. deja vu.  O.J. gets arrested.  O.J. gets hauled into court.  O.J. gets followed by the media tooling down the road in a car.  This time not headed towards the border but to a casino. 

Simpson beginning his day wearing prison bling, otherwise known as handcuffs, and flanked by his attorneys.  Listening to a judge charge him with various crimes surrounding that incident at a Vegas hotel room where Simpson allegedly tried to forcibly seize sports memorabilia he claims was stolen from him. 

The judge setting bail at $125,000, money anted up by a place called -

no kidding—You Ring, We Spring Bail Bonds.  The judge telling Mr.

Simpson he can go anywhere in the country but warning him not to contact any other defendants or witnesses in any way not by phone, not by e-mail, not even by carrier pigeon. 

And there’s late word that one more suspect, Charles Cashmore, surrendered to police and handed over more stuff taken during the incident.

Correspondent George Lewis has been covering the biggest show in Vegas since Celine Dion. 

George, fill us in. 

GEORGE LEWIS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Alison, having covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the civil trial, I think it’s O.J.-vu all over again for people like me with plenty of scenes today reminiscent of the murder trial 13 years ago. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is the state of Nevada versus Orenthal James Simpson. 

LEWIS:  Dressed in jail garb, his wrists shackled to his waist, O.J.  Simpson heard the charges against him including kidnapping, robbery, coercion, burglary, all with the use of a deadly weapon.  Simpson was barely audible as he answered the judge’s questions. 

BONAVENTURE:  Mr. Simpson, do you understand the charges against you? 

SIMPSON:  Yes, sir. 

LEWIS:  The judge told Simpson to surrender his passport, stay in the country, and not contact any other witnesses in the case. 

These photos, obtained by NBC News, show the sports memorabilia at the center of Simpson’s case.  He and his lawyers claim Simpson was just trying to retrieve items belonging to him. 

GALANTER:  My only focus up until this point in time has been securing Mr. Simpson’s release from custody. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nice work, dude.  Up high.

GALANTER:  Thank you very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Free the Juice. 

LEWIS:  Then there’s the Simpson circus.  Demonstrators outside the courthouse.  People in costume.  An enormous gaggle of reporters and camera crews.  Celebrity legal analysts, including Marcia Clark, who prosecuted him for murder in 1994, a case that Simpson’s lawyers say could color this one. 

GALANTER:  Despite his past and public opinion about his past, he is not a flight risk and he is not a danger to the community. 

LEWIS:  As Simpson left the Las Vegas jail this afternoon on his way home to Florida, there was a scene reminiscent of that famous Bronco chase, with Simpson being driven away this time in a bluish-gray Dodge tailed by news helicopters. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS:  Simpson will have to return here to court late next month. 

His lawyers say he plans to plead not guilty—Alison? 

STEWART:  George, what a day you’ve had out there.  You mentioned at the top that you covered O.J.’s murder trial and that he was a little bit cocky back then.  How did he act today? 

LEWIS:  Very subdued.  He spoke in a hoarse voice when he answered the judge’s questions, simply saying, “Yes, sir.”  I think O.J.’s lawyers probably advised him to take this all very seriously. 

STEWART:  It’s kind of a mess in terms of the people he surrounded himself with.  It’s hard to find an honest man in this case.  Today we learned that he memorabilia dealer who set up the hotel room meeting, he has a criminal record.  One of the guys, who claims he was robbed, has now been arrested on a parole violation.  What can you tell us about this crew? 

LEWIS:  Well, the man, Beardsley, who got arrested on a parole violation, went right into the same detention center that O.J. Simpson got out of.  It’s really ironic. 

O.J. Simpson’s lawyers are now saying that they are going to look very closely at the credibility of all of the witnesses in this case, many of whom have police records.  They say that credibility is in question and that could be a big turning point in whether the jury believes Simpson’s story, that he was just trying to recover merchandise that belonged to him. 

STEWART:  And, George, do we know where Simpson is now?  Has he left for home already? 

LEWIS:  Simpson is on a US AIR flight as we speak heading to Florida. 

He arrives later tonight in Ft. Lauderdale near his home. 

STEWART:  And the media scrambling as we speak. 

George Lewis out of Las Vegas.  Thanks, George.        

LEWIS:  All right.

STEWART:  As every crime story official knows, the police blotter is the place to get the juiciest nuggets, the raw, unproven details of the crime.  And today the Las Vegas Metro Police released their arrest report on the malice in the Palace Station Hotel last Thursday. 

Detectives writing the ten-page report described the alleged victims fearing for their lives as a memorabilia dealer, who arranged a meeting with, quote, “interested buyers,” suddenly disappeared.  And four men, two with handguns, burst in yelling, “Police.”  They were followed by an angry O.J. Simpson. 

According to one victim, one of the men pointed a gun at him while the other frisked him and said, quote, “I’m a cop and you’re lucky this ain’t L.A. or you’d be dead,” end quote.  The victim saying, “Take it.  We cool, Juice.  We cool, O.J.”

The report also describes the arrest of O.J. in his hotel room.  Simpson asking two female guests to leave, calmly telling detectives his attorney told him not to talk, then spilling his guts like a slot machine that hit triple sevens. 

Simpson kept saying he didn’t do anything wrong and he was just getting his property back and that he knew these people and some were his friend.  He also said he came to Vegas and, quote, “Look what happened.  I got arrested.” 

So what exactly did happen?  Let’s get some more details from Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of smokinggun.com. 

Good evening, Andrew. 

ANDREW GOLDBERG, MANAGING EDITOR, SMOKINGGUN.COM:  Good evening, Alison. 

STEWART:  So there’s 100 grand worth of merchandise in a hotel room, armed men invading commando style, and then the report of what went down.  You read the whole thing.  What does it tell you about O.J. and the people he’s hanging out with these days? 

GOLDBERG:  Like what was said earlier, O.J. hangs out with a bad crew.  Maybe ultimately that might work to his advantage the same way Michael Jackson when he went on trial it was deja vu again, we’re dealing with Michael Jackson again.  In this case, with O.J., you know, he surrounds himself with bad people.  With Michael, he attacks the people that were around him as well.  That was part of his defense.  It could be the same thing for O.J. here. 

Riccio, Thomas Riccio, a bad guy, has spent time in federal prison, state prison in California.  Beardsley, picked up by the marshals today.  Now he has a stalking charge.  He did state time in California.  And he was still on parole at the time this was going down in Vegas.  It’s just one horrible person after another. 

The thing with Riccio is—what does he do after this happens?  He sets up the deal, according to the police report.  He admits to setting it up, arranging for O.J. to be there, arranging for him.  He knows O.J. is going to take the stuff.  He records it all.  And then he does the next move, he sells it to a celebrity web site.  He profits off it instead of saying this is a shocking development.  I should tell the police something horrible happened in the room. 

STEWART:  This guy is a real prince is what you’re telling me. 

GOLDBERG:  There’s a lot of real princes, as you put it, in this story.  It’s one horrible after another basically.  You can just sort of see Riccio may be the worst one.  Beardsley, he’s going to be locked up again in California soon.  And Beardsley, he is the victim here according to the police report. 

So Riccio has not been arrested.  He’s been out saying he has an immunity deal.  That’s hard to believe because when the police spoke to him, they were under the impression he had something more to do with more than getting O.J. to the room.  They were curious, hey, did you have something to do with this, were you one of the guys who was involved in the burglary? 

So Riccio—I can’t imagine he has the immunity deal.  I’m sure he’s just lying when he goes out and says those things. 

STEWART:  Let me focus in on Beardsley.  We mentioned him earlier, now under arrest for parole violation.  And he’s claiming that tape that Riccio, the prince we’ve been talking about, made—the one he made and sold to the gossip site might have been edited.  So where does that leave the tape as evidence? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, the tape is a mess when it comes to evidence and, you know, there’s the chain of custody here.  It went from Riccio to maybe his lawyer, whoever dealt with the tape, whoever sold it to tmz, whatever happened there and then eventually makes its way to the police. 

Now, sure, a defense attorney would be thrilled to deal with that tape being admitted into evidence because it had a very circuitous route.  Beardsley is going to say the stuff on the tape is not true.  I saw him on the “Today” show saying it was chopped up, there were things in the room that weren’t on the tape.  I don’t know what was going on.  Maybe it was looped—is the term he used.  He is saying the tape is not a mess.  There are not too many good witnesses even with the tape. 

STEWART:  Let’s talk a little bit about the police conduct.  There were quite a few officers involved in the arrest.  Did anything stick out for you about the way the police approached this case? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, it moved awfully quickly.  They went in there and they interviewed O.J.  O.J., like you said earlier, O.J. was more than happy to talk.  It doesn’t—there don’t seem to be any problems so far.  It’s odd they didn’t have to go and file charges and arrest people so quickly but, no, there doesn’t seem anything odd at this point about police conduct in the case.  They were called in and they did their job. 

STEWART:  Now there’s something surreal about this whole case and about Simpson.  He’s had run-ins with the law, not getting into any real trouble.  The whole weird book thing, the show called “You’ve Been Juiced” or whatever that was.  Have you really ever seen another celebrity case like this?  And I mean your web site gets some pretty weird stuff on it. 

GOLDBERG:  You know, O.J. is iconic, basically because of the case—the first criminal case.  To deal with him in court—it’s amazing that we’re going through this again.  It’s deja vu again.  Do people really have the patience or the stomach for more O.J.? 

STEWART:  We shall see.  Apparently so, according to some of the ratings lately. 

Andrew Goldberg with the smokinggun.com.  Thanks a lot.

GOLDBERG:   Thank you.

STEWART:  To quote the Alan Parson’s Project, “Where do we go from here?”  What’s the likelihood we’re looking at the prospect of O.J. Simpson doing hard time?  Legal analysis next. 

And later, supporting the troops.  A bipartisan bill aims to let fighting men and women have the same amount of time at home as they spent on the front lines.  That’s facing a big fight.  One of the biggest objectors is the Bush White House.

You’re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  O.J. Simpson is free tonight.  What are the chances he’ll end up behind bars?  Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder will pick apart the strengths and the weaknesses of the case.  And the circus surrounding this day had its very own clown.  A professional prankster crashes a news conference.  That’s next.  This is “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In our fourth story on the “Countdown,” dream team two, anybody?  O.J. Simpson seems to be in deep, as in could spend the rest of his life in the deep.  In case you missed it, he is charged with ten felony counts, including burglary with possession of a deadly weapon, robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, and even first-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon. 

The ten-page police report is available online.  It details the complaint.  And the police summary of one of the victim’s accounts, if true, underlines the seriousness of what happened. 

Quoting, “The suspects with the guns were pointing the guns at the victims.  The suspect started to spread around the room.  Simpson told the unidentified suspects to gather the memorabilia from the bed.  The suspects took the pillow cases off the pillows and started to grab items.  Then when the victim had his phone in his hand, Simpson grabbed the phone out of his hands.”

Orenthal James Simpson was freed this afternoon after posting $125,000 in bail.  The judge made sure Mr. Simpson understood the conditions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BONAVENTURE:  You are ordered to have no contact whatsoever with any co-defendants named in this case, any potential witnesses named in this case.  These witnesses include any named victims in this case or any other potential witnesses.  Do you understand that order? 

SIMPSON:  Yes, sir. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Joining me now a former Supreme Court justice, Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder. 

Thanks for your time tonight. 

LESLIE CROCKER SNYDER, JUDGE, FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE:  Happy to be here. 

STEWART:  Before we get to the kind of case that Mr. Simpson will be facing, were there any surprises in today’s hearing? 

SNYDER:  I don’t really think so.  He didn’t have to enter a plea and he didn’t.  That’s for the future.  And I think that it was completely reasonable to think the judge would set substantial bail with conditions both sides agreed on.  Of course I think it’s a bit of a joke to think he’s not going to speak to some of his co-defendants because I’m sure he will. 

STEWART:  You thought the judge’s words were fair but maybe not realistic? 

SNYDER:  Exactly. 

STEWART:  All right.  The difference between just a few days ago and today is really striking.  When we all heard this, it started out like kind of a scuffle but it has involved into something really bigger.  What formidable task does his legal team face? 

SNYDER:  I think both sides actually face formidable tasks.  In a way it’s almost a law school type of trial with problems that both sides have.  The prosecution, to start with them, have witnesses who are really skuzzy and have terrible records.  There’s got a...

STEWART: Is that a legal term, skuzzy? 

SNYDER:  That’s a legal term.  I think they have flipped or will flip a number of people which are immediately—it’s typical of law enforcement.  Of course, they have to do that.  They have problems whenever they do.  People with records. 

The defense, on the other hand, has a very serious tape because it shows just how violent O.J. Simpson is.  If that tape is going to get in.  So they not only have witnesses they can attack but they have a tape which could be a problem. 

Now they are going to have that tape analyzed.  They’re going to try to keep that tape out because the tape does have all sorts of technical issues.  First of all, it may not be in tact, things that are quite boring to talk about but they will attack on every ground. 

If O.J. wanted to take the witness stand, even if the tape doesn’t come in on the direct case, they may be able to impeach him with portions of it.  And it does show how O.J. appears to be in command and that he is violent.  So both sides, I think, have a really formidable task ahead. 

STEWART:  What would keep the tape out of court? 

SNYDER:  Well, possibly the chain of evidence, although it could be authenticated by some of the defendants or witnesses who flip.  Certainly if the tape can be showed to have been tampered with and therefore it’s not reliable.  But, as I said, if O.J. wanted to take the stand and say, oh, all I did was go in and get my stuff, then I think the prosecution might well be able to play portions of it, if those portions could be shown not to have been tampered with.  That might keep them off the witness stand if you were ever going to consider it. 

STEWART:  The introduction of a gun throws this into a whole different plane.  Does it matter whether or not Mr. Simpson used a gun himself? 

SNYDER:  Not at all.  Legally, the theory of this case is either he did something or he did it by acting in concert, aiding and abetting.  What we call being an accomplice basically.  If one person goes in to commit a crime with a bunch of others, they all have the intent to commit the robbery or the burglary, whatever the crime is, and they participate in some way, they’re equally guilty.  And it makes absolutely no difference in the eyes of the law.  However, it might make a difference in the eyes of the jury.  You never know. 

STEWART:  I want to touch on something you mentioned earlier, the idea people might flip.  Some of Simpson’s alleged co-conspirators could turn against him and make this a little better for themselves.  Does this leave any room for Simpson to strike a deal? 

SNYDER:  Well, I think what’s going to happen here is, he’s such a high profile celebrity defendant, that the prosecution won’t want to do that, but if their case begins to fall apart, and certainly it could, it’s going to be a long time before anything substantial happens in the case, Things are going to go bad in some ways.  They could reach the point where to save face and salvage their case they offer some kind of deal.  That’s possible. 

STEWART:  What about the victim that’s in intensive care in an L.A.  hospital after suffering a heart attack after the incident?  If that man died, could additional charges be added against Simpson? 

SNYDER:  Well, it’s certainly possible.  If you could have expert testimony which linked the death causally, sufficiently to the actions of O.J. Simpson, and you could prove that—and his cohorts, of course, his accomplices—if you could prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution felt they could, and they had expert testimony about the link causally and his medical condition to these acts, it is certainly possible that additional very serious charges could be added, manslaughter or murder. 

STEWART: And one of the most serious charges right now we should say is kidnapping and we know you’re not familiar with Nevada law but what’s your guess about why that charge is in there at all? 

SNYDER:  I think it’s just the idea that, first of all, they apparently restrained everyone.  These are the charges.  They restrained everyone in there and that seems to be true from the tape.  They did it at gunpoint, grabbed a cell phone from one of the victims.  Wouldn’t let people leave.  Kidnapping can be a very technical charge of restraining or imprisoning somebody.  So I assume that that’s their theory. 

STEWART:  Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, former New York State Supreme Court justice.  Thanks for your time tonight. 

SNYDER:  You’re welcome. 

STEWART:  What would an O.J. legal saga be without, well, a circus?  It was provided to us right after the hearing when a professional prankster stepped right up to the mike right along with Simpson’s legal team. 

And another holy apparition, another Virgin Mary sighting making its way to eBay soon, no doubt.  That and more ahead on “Countdown.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  On this date in 1928, William West Anderson was born in Walla Walla, Washington.  William West Anderson is better known by his stage name Adam West, best known for playing Bruce Wayne whose butler, Alfred, will tell you he’s otherwise known as Batman.  So in honor of the original spandex-wearing caped crusader’s 79th birthday, let’s play “Oddball,” Robin.

We begin in Watauga, Texas, with what is unequivocally the likeness of the Virgin Mary in mold on the inside of a lemon—sort of.  Marty Nance was working at the family billiard hall, cutting lemons, when the apparition jumped out at him.  While the image is clearly of a woman’s face, Marty says there’s some debate about whether she’s the Virgin Mary or some other lady. 

MARTY NANCE, LEMON CUTTER:  Some people will say it looks like the Virgin Mary or something like that but some said like Mona Lisa picture.  Some people said it looked like the pope, could be a man.

STEWART:  It could be the mother of Christ, could be Tom Cruise’s ex-wife.  You make the call.  Marty says he’s going to sell it on the eBay.  Might throw it in some vodka, do a lemon drop.  That’s my vote. 

To Rochester, New York, where we get a look at the old Kodak photo paper plant.  Called old building 50, it opened in 1918 and it stands a tribute to American ingenuity and know-how, a lasting test—well, I hope you took a picture.  The demolition is one of 30 that will take place on the massive Kodak campus as part of the transformation the company is making from paper pics to digital ones because the future is now, baby. 

To a detention center in the Philippines and those dancing felons who charmed the world with their “Thriller” dance.  They’re back.  The video is a little more artsy.  The camera a little shaky but it’s no less ridiculous.  I give you the world premiere of the seven detention center inmates doing something called Haruki dance.              

President Bush’s and his administration lobbied against a bill that would give our soldiers equal time at home as they spend it in Iraq.  Today the bipartisan bill couldn’t muster enough support to make it to a vote.  The politics of supporting the troops ahead with Howard Fineman. 

And Britney Spears, you just hear that you’re going to undergo repeated random drug testing, so what do you do?  Hit the clubs, of course.  Details ahead. 

But first, time for “Countdown’s” top three newsmakers of the day. 

At number three, Bryan Rocco of Vineland, New Jersey.  He’s scarfing down his lunch while driving, chokes on an onion ring, blacks out.  His car swerves across the road, hits the curb, smacks into a tree.  The impact saved his life, forcing the onion ring out of his throat. 

And number two, the friends of carnival worker Joshua Frank.  Mr.  Frank was driving his SUV when it swerved out of control and hit a telephone pole.  Frank told police it wasn’t his fault.  It was his friend in the back, a man and woman who were getting down to business with such fervor that the SUV tipped. 

Speaking of franks, number one, an unnamed man in Germany, and trust me, it’s good we won’t know his name.  Man goes into a butcher shop, orders some sausages before he leaves the country.  Comes back a few hours later and asks the shop to store his sausages before he heads to the airport.  The workers thought, hmm, these sausages are unusually heavy.  They expressed concern to police and they investigate.  The man had hidden two marital aids inside the sausages.  Another victory for, if you see something, say something, but touch nothing, I think. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  As the White House and Congress appear headed toward a showdown over the war in Iraq, it seems both branches of government are more unpopular than ever before.  How unpopular?  In our third story in the COUNTDOWN, let’s just say they’re the fat kid with glasses and the skinny kid with halitosis in the school cafeteria.  Only 29 percent of those Americans surveyed give President Bush a positive grade for his job performance in the new Reuters/Zogby poll, down from his previous low of 30 percent in March. 

Even worse, a scant 11 percent give federal lawmakers a thumbs up, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.  Ouch.  At this point, one might not blame Congressional leaders for thinking they have nothing to lose by losing.  Could that be the strategy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who announced that Democrats will not temper their Iraq legislation in a bid to attract more Republicans, and that he will be calling for votes this month on several anti-war proposals. 

They are likely to fail, just like the Webb-Hagel amendment did earlier tonight.  Republicans successfully filibustered that measure, which would have given U.S. troops as much time at home between deployment as they are now serving on the ground in Iraq.  The 56-44 vote was four yeas of the 60 needed to cut off debate.  Co-sponsor Chuck Hagel said tonight he is going to keep trying to get fellow Republicans on board. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  I think we have once again brought to the attention of the American public that we’re asking a very, very small percentage of the American population to carry all the burden and make all the sacrifices.  And we’ll keep at this and assure that the American people understand what’s at play. 

SEN. CHUCK WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  As of a week ago, the administration and some of the leading Republicans in here talking about, hey, it’s OK that we’re going to be in Iraq for the next 50 years.  I don’t think it is OK.  And so we’re going to have this debate.  It’s going to be a long and emotional debate, long meaning in months and perhaps years.  And that’s why what Senator Hagel and I were trying to do today was so important. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek Magazine.”  Nice to see you, Howard. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Nice to see you, too. 

STEWART:  There’s so much blow back from the Democratic anti-war base before.  Has Senator Reid determined that if they are not going to break the filibuster anyway, they might as well keep the base happy? 

FINEMAN:  Well, they’re going to try to keep them happy.  By the way, that 11 percent rating for Congress—I think O.J. Simpson would have higher than 11 percent if that were put to a vote.  And I think the Democrats are unhappy with the Democratic leadership.  So I think Reid is going to try to respond to the base, to the Democratic party, which says end the war.  Try to end the war. 

And I think they’re going to sort of hurl themselves bodily against the fortress of the Bush administration on all these pieces of legislation, knowing that they won’t win, but trying to prove to their own base that their hearts are with them. 

STEWART:  That’s quite an image of Harry Reid just hurling himself against 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

FINEMAN:  He’s not a real big guy. 

STEWART:  Until this morning it looked like Senator Warner might vote for the Webb-Hagel amendment to make sure troops get time at home.  What was going on there?  Why did he withdraw the support? 

FINEMAN:  Well, when he first announced the support, tentative support for that, he was still a possible candidate for re-election in Virginia.  Since that time, he’s decided to retire.  On the one hand that’s loosened him up to criticize the overall strategy for the war.  But on the other hand, I think it made him more open to listen to the Defense Secretary Gates, who said, look, senator, we can’t let—meaning we, the administration—and you can’t let the Congress decide troop deployments, that this is too of the province of the Pentagon. 

And John Warner cares very much about the Pentagon and its prerogatives.  That’s why he questioned the war.  But that’s why he’s also going to side with the administration on this. 

STEWART:  What does Congress need to do, Democrats and Republicans, to raise those dreadful approval numbers? 

FINEMAN:  Well, on the Democratic side, as I say, they were elected to a majority for one main reason, to try to end the war.  They’ve got to try to do everything they can to try to do so to please their base.  On the Republican side, I think the big issue is immigration.  I’ve just spent a lot of time in Iowa and I can tell you, Allison, that out there, among the Republican faithful, they want to see action on immigration.  They want the borders closed.  They want a tough stance on illegals and so forth. 

You’re not really hearing that much from the Republicans because the Republicans are of two minds about that.  Those two things would raise the numbers with the bases of the two parties.  Beyond that, the American people see the Republicans and Democrats fighting with each other all the time, the halitosis kid and the glasses kid.  They don’t like to see the spectacle of it.  They’re tired of it.  That was a pun I didn’t even intend. 

STEWART:  The other political news right now is four of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination have all declined invitations to appear at next week’s All American Presidential Forum at a historically black college in Baltimore.  Earlier this summer only senator McCain agreed to participate in the debate on the Spanish language network Univision.  Former Congressman and former Veep nominee Jack Kemp jumped right in this one, saying, quote, we sound like we don’t want immigration.  We sound like we don’t want black people to vote for us. 

What’s going on with the snubs, Howard? 

FINEMAN:  One is tempted to say sort of suicidal instinct on the part of the Republican party.  In the case of immigration, as I was saying before, this is a huge issue, especially among Republicans.  And a lot of the base wants a very tough stance on immigration.  And I think most of those candidates didn’t want to go in front of the Hispanic audience with that message. 

As far as African-Americans are concerned, it’s just mystifying, because the Republicans need to keep trying, not so much to get black votes, but to show suburban moderates that they care.  And I think it’s a mistake on their part.  Former chairman of the party Mehlman said so, Kemp said so, everybody says so.  It doesn’t make any sense politically or in any other way. 

STEWART:  Well, we shall see what happens in the future.  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” great to have you with us. 

FINEMAN:  Great to be here, thanks. 

STEWART:  It’s a good thing for the Republicans that when they had the majority they never followed through on their threat to do away with filibusters forever, because today the GOP once again used the procedural maneuver to block legislation that would have restored habeas corpus rights to military detainees being held in places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The roll call vote fell four shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate.  Those in favor of bringing the measure to the full vote in the Senate, 56.  Those enforcing the filibuster, 43. 

The fundamental right of individuals to challenge government detention guaranteed since the Magna Carta?  Zero.  Democrat Patrick Leahy, who co-sponsored the legislation with Republican Arlen Specter, reacted to the defeat by saying, quote, it calls into question our historic role as a defender of human rights around the world.  In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the ban on Habeas Corpus petitions is constitutional, although no argument date has been set. 

U.S. contractors in a deadly altercation with Iraqis.  Blackwater USA originally said its people were ambushed.  Iraqi eyewitnesses say that’s not true.  Tonight some American officials in Baghdad are backing the Iraqi story. 

And Dan Rather, more than two years after signing off from the “CBS Evening News,” levels a 70 million dollar lawsuit against his old bosses, contending he was made a scapegoat by the eye.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  As if folks in charge in of the U.S. diplomatic effort in Iraq did not already have jobs that were tough enough, they now have to contend with fallout from the Blackwater USA incident.  In our second story on the COUNTDOWN, a preliminary report from the Iraqi government says that employees of the private contracting firm were not ambushed in Baghdad on Sunday, as they had claimed, but instead fired the first shots on a car after it ignored a policeman’s call to stop.  The Iraqi government also says 20 civilians were killed in the shooting, far more than was earlier reported. 

We get the latest tonight from our correspondent Jim Maceda, who is in Baghdad.   

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The ban on Blackwater USA, America’s most high powered security firm in Iraq, has paralyzed the U.S. diplomatic mission here.  Without Blackwater to protect them, U.S. officials can’t leave headquarters in the Green Zone.  Sunday’s shooting incident involving Blackwater agents left at least eight Iraqis dead and had Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki fuming today. 

We are freezing Blackwater’s activities for everyone’s sake, he said. 

The Iraqi version of events, still under investigation, differs from Blackwater’s.  The firm says its guards were ambushed, first by a car bomb, then small arms fire.  But eyewitnesses, including this policeman we interviewed today, claimed Blackwater shot first at this car when its driver failed to come to a stop and then he said fired wildly. 

They started shooting at us to get away, he said.  Then the car was hit by a rocket and burned.  The Iraqi government says a car bomb did in fact detonate, but more than a mile from the scene. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would say there was no car bomb at all. 

MACEDA:  Blackwater already had an infamous reputation.  These videos, apparently shot by Blackwater agents themselves, and accessible on websites like Youtube show a reckless and often rude side. 

(on camera):  In the streets most Iraqis live in fear of American security firms like Blackwater.  Iraqis think they operate as private armies, but unlike soldiers, are accountable to no one. 

(voice-over):  Now the Iraqi government wants new laws to prosecute Blackwater, while U.S. officials seek a face-saving way out of the crisis. 

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Baghdad.   

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  The news about the news leading off our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  Do you remember that time Dan Rather was let go from CBS after that whole President Bush/National Guard service memo flap?  Well, he’s going to want 70 million bucks for all that.  The “New York Times” is reporting that Rather claims CBS violated his contract by not giving him more airtime on “60 Minutes” after he stepped down from the “Evening News.” 

Rather claims that the “60 Minutes” memo investigation by CBS was a fraud because it was biased and incomplete.  He also claims CBS executive made him a, quote, scapegoat in an attempt to pacify the White House.  The suit names CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves, Viacom’s chief Sumner Redstone and the former head of CBS News Andrew Heyward as plaintiffs.  CBS today called Rather’s suit, quote, called old news and without merit.   

From a veteran news guy to a new media superstar, Chris Crocker, the leave Britney alone guy.  He has a TV deal, a reality TV production outfit.  Something called 44 Blue Productions has inked the Internet sensation to a development deal that will create a docu-soap centering on the 19-year-old from Tennessee and his life living with his grand parents.  Meanwhile, Crocker’s leave Britney alone clip has been viewed nearly eight million times on Youtube and has spawned countless parodies and continues to be disturbing on so many levels. 

Despite Chris Crocker’s breathless pleas no one is leaving Britney Spears alone.  Paparazzi, including the folks from CelebTV.com, caught up with Miss Spears club hopping.  Britney Gene was just hours removed from the child custody hearing, during which a judge found she habitually and frequently used controlled substances and alcohol.  Spears was spotted outside Winston’s shortly after midnight, getting into a car that took her to Kathy Griffin’s hangout, Hide. 

CelebTV reports evening ended around 1:30 a.m. when she went home, probably just to tuck those kid in bed. 

And a turn in the search for adventurer Steve Fossett 16 days after his disappearance in a single engine plane.  Rescuers have called off the active search.  According to the Nevada Department of Public Safety, there is still a search and rescue operation.  But it will be scaled back.  They still believe Fossett may be alive.  Chuck Allen, a spokesman for the Nevada DPS, says they will hold a number of air crafts in reserve in case any new leads emerge and that, quote, nobody is giving up on this man. 

Search crews have scoured over 98 percent of Nevada since Fossett’s September 3rd disappearance. 

Now if you watched the O.J. Simpson coverage today, you got an unexpected TV treat.  Every news conference should have a professional prankster pretending to be in on the action.  You remember him from Paris Hilton.  Trust us, you’ll love him in O.J. Simpson.  Paul F. Tompkins joins me next with analysis of the best prankster ever. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Big celebrity trials launch careers.  They create a cottage industry of t-shirts and hats.  They draw spectators who seem to be, well, to put it politely, bonkers or just enthusiastic, really enthusiastic.  But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, send in the clowns.  Outside O.J.  Simpson’s trial today there were people dressed as chickens and bam-bam, you know, from “The Flintstones.”  But the prize went to a man who looked like the sidekick of Simpson’s lawyer.  He’s the guy on the right, the one wearing the O.J. ‘07 t-shirt, with the hat that reads, I heart famous people. 

And the lawyer, Yale Galanter, somehow put up with it all.  It turns out Mr. O.J. ‘07 is a professional prankster who does bits for Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Today, baby, he was working overtime. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

YALE GALANTER, O.J.’S ATTORNEY:  We expect Mr. Simpson to be processed and released—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes!

GALANTER:  --fairly quickly.  Other than that, we do expect Mr.

Simpson to go back to Florida in the next few days. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

GALANTER:  My only focus up to this point in time has been securing Mr. Simpson’s release—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nice work, dude.  Up high. 

GALANTER:  Thank you very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right here.  Don’t leave me hanging. 

GALANTER:  Thank you.  Thank you, thank you.  I appreciate that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, buddy!  Nice work.

GALANTER:  And that’s been our focus. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- innocent or not guilty?

GALANTER:  I’m not sure there’s a difference in the eyes of the law. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He’s both dude.  He is innocent and not guilty. 

It’s an emotional time.

GALANTER:  He just wants to get home and be with his family and kids. 

Excuse me.  Excuse me.  Because you all knew who his lawyer was. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This guy right here. 

(CROSS TALK)

GALANTER:  So far—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can’t talk right now. 

GALANTER:  So far I am incredibly impressed at how professional and—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is O.J. scared that he could spend the rest of his life in jail? 

GALANTER:  I think he is—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Let’s bring in comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor to VH1’s “Best Week Ever.”  He’s talking to us from a street in Vancouver, seeing if any pranksters show up.  Apparently our audio guy is a prankster, because you’re talking to us on a cell phone? 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH1:  That’s right.  Thank you for taking my call, Allison. 

STEWART:  Anytime, Paul.  So are you a little worried about getting your own super fan out there?  Are you all right? 

TOMPKINS:  Oh, I think I’m fine.  A lot of people are just walking past and then they turn around to see who I am, realize they don’t know me, and walk away disappointed.  I think I’m in the clear. 

STEWART:  All right.  We know this guys was a pro.  He looked like he was having the time of life.  Do you have to go to school for that or do they train you for these jobs of just randomly making an ass of yourself in public. 

TOMPKINS:  It’s like working out.  You can’t just do a lot on the weekends.  You have to do a little bit every day.  So this is a guy who has been wanting a Jamba Juice, standing next to a person ordering, just yelling, that’s right, my man got an energy boost. 

STEWART:  You saw how that lawyer was—he was pretty tolerant of the guy.  It makes me wonder does, A, the lawyer think the prankster is an actual supporter, or is he just so desperate he doesn’t care? 

TOMPKINS:  I think he doesn’t care.  He’s O.J. Simpson’s lawyer.  The guy beat murder, so I think the guy is pretty confident going into this case.  The last celebrity that even came close to doing hard jail time was John Wilkes Booth. 

STEWART:  Now the prankster, you know, this isn’t his first time at a Rodeo.  No, he was there with Paris Hilton when she was sent to jail back in June.  Let’s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He ruled that he was remanding Miss Hilton to the sheriff’s custody to serve the remainder of her sentence at the Century Regional Detention -- 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No!  No, no, no, no. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Shut up.  Shut up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Yes, yes, yes.  He really does heart famous people, doesn’t he? 

TOMPKINS:  He doesn’t just wear the hat.  He really walks the walk.  Phil Spector is going to be having a press conferences soon.  This is a great time to be a guy in homemade t-shirts who likes to yell things. 

STEWART:  Let’s talk about the non-case of the century.  If Mr.  Simpson, by some stretch of the imagination, tries to flee it would be obviously different this time around.  He doesn’t have a white Bronco anymore that we know about, and not a whole lot of money that we know about.  So how do you think O.J. would flee? 

TOMPKINS:  I doesn’t know why they’re so worried about him as a flight risk, unless they think he has actually gained the power of flight, like if they think he found an enchanted ring or a genie in a bottle.  I think (INAUDIBLE)  maybe build a tunnel. 

STEWART:  Do you think he’ll make an effort to find the real armed robbers, Paul? 

TOMPKINS:  He has a lot less on his plate now since the other trail went cold.  All those golf games and autograph sessions yielded zero leads, so now he can concentrate on this. 

STEWART:  Do you think, Paul, Mr. Simpson might try a different approach next time someone tries to take his stuff? 

TOMPKINS:  I think he could probably do something like, OK, I’m going to turn out the lights and then whoever took my stuff, just bring it back, no questions asked.  And then of course, I’ll murder you. 

STEWART:  You know, fortunately, this doesn’t have anything to do with murder, Paul.  But do you think the lawyers have any tricks up their sleeves at this point, any catchy phrases, the glove doesn’t fit, you’ve got to sit—or whatever. 

TOMPKINS:  As far as tricks go, I think the lawyers might as well do actual magic tricks.  I mean, pull a rabbit out of the hat.  Make somebody disappear.  Even (INAUDIBLE) I think would distract people enough. 

STEWART:  Comedian Paul F. Tompkins of VH-1’s “Best Week Ever.”  Best sport ever on a cell phone on a corner somewhere in Canada.

TOMPKINS:  I’ll call you soon, Allison. 

STEWART:  Bye, Paul. 

That does it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I’m Allison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Keith’s recovery is going so well.  He will be back tomorrow night.  Until we meet again, please join me for my day job at NPR.  The show is called the “Bryant Park Project.”  Our coverage continues now with “MSNBC LIVE” with Dan Abrams.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.’s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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